Barleywine is a strange beast. Especially some of the West Coast versions that are like triple IPAs or something, positively stuffed with hops and maxing out in the double-digit ABV.
I wrote a feature on barleywine last summer for the latest issue of Imbibe magazine and part of the story involved tasting notes on 10 different examples of the style from various US brewers. Well, it should have been 11 US brewers, but Flying Dog didn't get their sample of Horn Dog to me in time. So, I figured rather than writing tasting notes about it on the blog last summer, I'd wait until the issue came out and it was more seasonally appropriate.
Had I been able to include Horn Dog in the article's tasting notes, it surely would have been one of my favorites (not that they were rated, but I'm just sayin'...). First of all, I should mention that the bottle they sent is the 2007 vintage so it's had some good bottle time. Flying Dog describes Horn Dog as an English-style barleywine, which basically means that it is not defined by a huge hit of hops. This is all about big malt character. The color, a rich auburn brown, is the first indicator that this is a little different. Though the ABV is 10.2%, you don't really get much of an alcohol hit from the nose. There is a rich, malty, grainy character that suggests sweet things to come. On the palate it's pretty well balanced—there's hops there on the finish, but the time in the bottle has softened the bitterness nicely. You get a tasty mouthful of bittersweet chocolate and loads of dried fruit. Tasty.